UEC invites three schools to join league

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The changing landscape of high school conferences in the western suburbs took a significant step toward resolution Thursday when the Upstate Eight announced it is inviting three schools to join the league.

The UEC’s principals met Wednesday and approved two proposals brought forward by the conference’s athletic directors. The first proposal invites West Chicago into the UEC for the 2013-14 school year to fill the vacancy left by Lake Park, which announced in October it is moving to the DuPage Valley next year.

The second proposal invites West Aurora and Glenbard East into the UEC for the 2014-15 school year, with the division structure yet to be determined. The second proposal is still pending a final interview process with the two schools that will be completed in December.

“We’re cautiously optimistic that the invitations we sent out will be approved by the invitees,” Batavia athletic director Dave Andrews said.

The conference reshuffling began in earnest in September when West Chicago left the DVC to accept an invitation to join the Metro Suburban. The school then came under pointed criticism from the Metro Suburban and had its invitation rescinded when it became public knowledge West Chicago was seeking membership in the UEC after Lake Park’s departure.

West Chicago athletic director Doug Mullaney said Thursday he expected his school’s move to the UEC to be approved soon, adding a sense of relief in having closure on the matter.

“We know there’s a lot of support for this move and we’re looking forward to getting this going,” Mullaney said. “It’s been a very long process that started in August. We knew it would be a long road, and we just went day to day and took our time.

“We have been honest and open with everybody. We really focused in on what our community wanted, what our board of education wanted and what we need. We’re pleased with the decision and we appreciate the fact we let this process play out.”

In the case of West Aurora, the invitation to join the UEC offers an opportunity to return to a familiar setting.

West Aurora was a charter member of the UEC in 1963 but left after the 1996-97 school year to join the DVC. A recent survey found that the majority of coaches at the school did not think their programs were a good fit for the DVC, prompting school officials to explore a return to the UEC.

West Aurora athletic director Jason Buckley said the invitation to the UEC will be discussed at a School District 129 meeting Monday. He added he expects no decision to be made until after next month’s meeting between officials from West Aurora and the UEC.

“Ultimately we want what is the best fit for our student athletes and our community,” Buckley said. “If that is in the DVC, we’ll stay. If we feel that’s in the Upstate Eight, then we’ll be hard pressed not to take a hard look to see how we can improve.”

The potential arrival of Glenbard East in the UEC would extend the conference’s borders farther east than ever. Located in Lombard, the 2,527-student school isn’t the most natural geographic fit for the conference, but its size and demographics do match up with the rest of the league.

While the steps taken this week by the UEC move the discussion forward, more shake-ups could still be coming down the road.

Like West Aurora and West Chicago, Glenbard East is currently a member of the DVC. If all three schools accept the invitation to join the UEC, that would leave the DVC with only six members while bumping the UEC’s total to 16.

There is speculation that the DVC could look to current UEC members such as Neuqua Valley and Waubonsie Valley to bolster its ranks should Glenbard East, West Aurora and West Chicago all leave. Andrews said those scenarios were discussed by the UEC’s athletic directors and principals, and all parties involved understand the situation will likely remain fluid going forward.

“There’s open dialogue between the two (conferences) and there has been for some time, which is good,” Buckley said. “It’s not an us against them mentality by anybody in either conference. We’re all trying to figure out what’s best for everybody involved.”

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